A brother who won’t share his Fortnite video game.
A younger sister who drives you crazy.
A math problem that is the last straw, the thing that sends you over the edge into despair.
Those are all moments to practice mindfulness, the habit of stopping all the chattering monkeys in your head and just being—pause here for a deep breath—quiet.
At Van Buren Elementary School, practicing mindfulness has become part of the school culture.
At 2:05 p.m. every Wednesday, all students participate in a mindfulness exercise. It’s led by a different class each week and broadcast live on the school’s YouTube channel. Kids in the rest of the classrooms watch on large electronic whiteboards.
Many teachers use mindfulness more often in their classrooms.
“We’re really trying to give the kids the tools to self-regulate,” said Leslie Bauer, a school counselor.
Kids—and adults—need to understand they can’t control everything that happens to them, but with the right tools, they can control their responses, Bauer explained.
Many of the exercises involve deep breathing. To do “square breathing,” for example, students exhale for a count of four, inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four and then begin again.
This is not hocus-pocus. Studies have shown that deep-breathing exercises can help control anxiety and stress. When you breathe in and breathe out consciously and slowly, your heart rate slows. As you become calmer, the brain releases chemicals that help sustain the effects, neuroscientists say.
Another technique is called “creative visualization.” Children sit quietly and imagine they are taking a walk along the beach, and the water is lapping over their feet, and the sun is shining.
The students also have learned the value of “reset.” A reset involves stopping everything, taking a deep breath, lowering their heads and then raising them back up slowly. A reset helps bring students back from wherever their brains have wandered.
On Wednesday, Jessica Benish’s third-graders led the school in an exercise called “building a snowman.”
Brogen Braunreiter, 8, read the instructions, and the rest of the class went through the motions in front of the camera.
“Deep breath in and raise your arms,” Braunreiter intoned. “Now exhale and build the first layer of your snowman.”
Kids squatted down and patted an imaginary snowman in front of them.
It looked like modified yoga.
Benish said the breathing and reset exercises took time to teach, but the benefits have been worth it.
“When I say ‘reset,’ the kids know what to do,” she said. “It’s just one word.”
One of Benish’s students, Abel Lindsey, 8, said he finds mindfulness useful when he starts to get angry about something at school or at home.
Jesse Burton, 8, said mindfulness exercises help him get to sleep when he’s “super hyper.”
Katerina Breyman and Keyloni Barker, both 8, use mindfulness when their sisters are driving them crazy. Sibling conflict seemed to be a good reason to practice mindfulness.
Braunreiter said it was useful for helping him deal with sibling conflicts, as well.
“Sometimes my brother won’t let me play Fortnite,” Braunreiter said. “I keep on telling him, ‘I want to play, let me play, I want to play,’ but he doesn’t let me.”
Then he has to “try hard to be mindful.”